The Year of the Visual Arts

19th-century "Ecce-Homo" church fresco painting by Elias Garcia Martinez ruined DIY

It appears that the coming year will be the year of the visual arts for me. I'm not sure exactly how I got roped in to these events, especially when I have received no formal training in the visual arts. But I can't seem to escape its orbital pull and I've decided that there's no point in trying to, because it's here to stay and I might as well make the best of it.

Here are the places I'll be over the next year and I'd love to see you there, especially if you're within a 6,000-mile radius.

1. "For the (Visual) Beauty of the Church." The Faith Seeking Understanding Lecture Series at Gordon College in conjunction with The Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and CIVA co-host this event on September 22 in Boston, MA.

Phaedra Taylor
I'll be giving a plenary talk here on the place of the visual arts in the life of the church. I'm joined by the inimitable Bruce Herman and the affable Cam Anderson as we together explore the interface between visual artists and the church gathered and scattered. It'll be my first time to visit Boston and I'm psyched. Here is where you register ($20/$10). Here is the poster for the event. And below is the official description for the event, which is open to the public. Hey New Englanders: y'all come out.

"Much of the great visual art in western history has both been inspired by Christian faith and formed Christian faith. Our Creator made things that were "pleasing to the eye," not just "good for" our mundane needs. Our Lord called attention to the gratuitous visual beauty of the lily. But in sad counterpoint, the church has often ignored, undervalued or even opposed the work of its creative artists. Pastors, ministry leaders, working artists, lovers of art, people of faith, connoisseurs as well as the merely curious: all are invited to a conversation to explore the place of the visual arts in the life of the church, both within its walls and outside its walls. Check out our spectacular presenters and tell your friends."

2. "Preaching in a Visual Age": a conference taking place November 1-3 in Los Angeles, California. A collaboration between the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching, the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts, the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship, Christians In the Visual Arts and Ecclesia Hollwood, the conference will bring together speakers, music, art, and digital media in order to help paint a picture of what preaching the gospel needs to consider in a visual society.

Paul Hobbs "Three in One" (2002)

The title and description of my talk is this: "'Opus Oculi: On the Positive Role of the Eyes in Corporate Worship.' When Protestant Christians turn to a discussion of the visual aspect of the public worship space, they often revolve around two questions. What does the Bible say or not say about the visual aspect? And do I like it or do I not like it? Rarely do theological questions factor prominently. In this talk I wish to engage a double question of my own: 1) How might we think theologically about the nature of visuality and 2) What positive work does visual artwork perform in the public worship space?"

Fellow plenary speakers include Pete Docter (director of Monsters, Inc and Up), Bobette Buster (creative director for folks like Tony Scott, Larry Gelbart and Ray Stark), Bill Dyrness (author of Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards), Ralph Winter (producer of X-Men movies and the early Star Trek films) and Betsy Halstead (maven of visual arts at the CICW), among others. I've included below the opening description of the conference, penned by organizer and fearless leader Mark Labberton. For all info, see here. Oh, and the inimitable Brian Moss will be there too, thank God.

To see the schedule, go here. To register, go here. Here is the fuller explanation of the event:

John Martin, "The Last Judgement" (1853)
“In our world we sleep and eat the image and pray to it and wear it too,” novelist Don DeLillo observed. Images, Susan Sontag concludes, have turned the world into a place where people “become customers or tourists of reality.” And now, with sophisticated technology everywhere—right down to the phone in your pocket—we have become creators and producers of reality as well. From St. Augustine to Martin Luther, and from George Whitfield to MLK Jr., preaching the gospel has been the very heart of the Christian church’s approach to renewal and engaging society with the claims of God and God’s Kingdom.

But things are rapidly changing, not least about communication.  Many preachers and Christians wonder:
  • What place does “preaching” have in our image-shaped world?
  • How do we bring the gospel word to people inundated by images?
  • What does Jesus —‘the Word made visual’—teach us about the living Word?

Preaching in a Visual Age invites pastors, theologians, visual artists, filmmakers, media professionals, and Christian leaders to come together to grapple with these questions and more.  Speakers, music, art, and digital media will be drawn from in order to help paint a picture…a picture of what preaching the gospel needs to consider in a visual society. Whether you are a pastor, an artist, part of the entertainment industry, or simply someone who is passionate about engaging your world with the gospel, you will find this conference inspiring and thought provoking.  We encourage you to join us as we explore what it means to be Preaching in a Visual Age.
Kim En Joong -- Windows and Interior Design of the Chapel of the Dominican Monastery in Louvain-La-Neuve in Belgium

Michail Schnitmann "Flugeln" (2008)
3. The Calvin Symposium on Worship on January 24-26, 2013, among other liturgical things, will host a mini-version of the November "Preaching in a Visual Age" event. So if you missed the chance to fly to LA and see all your favorite celebrities walking down the street "just like us," then here's your chance to vacation in the yummy snowy climes of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and hang out with a lot of really smart people in the galaxy of all things related to Christian worship. The title of my seminar is: "Praying with the Eyes: Why the eyes have good work to do in worship and why it's not as easy as opening and closing them." Preachers include Marva Dawn and Greg Thompson. Presenters include Robin Jensen, Steven Guthrie,  He Qi, Brian Schrag, Sandra Bowden, Mark Gornik, Swee Hong Lim and Cornelius Plantinga, among others. Register here.

Albrecht Durer "Four Apostles" (1526)
4. CIVA's biennial conference, "JustArt," will gather at Wheaton College on June 13-16. Not only will it include a Part 3 to the "Preaching in a Visual Age" event in LA, it will also devote considerable energies to a church and arts track--in addition to a crucial series of investigations of the double entendre to the conference's title: "Is it just art?" "Can art be an act of justice?" "Does art require justification?" And so on.

More information coming soon.

5. Finally, I'll be trying out a few new ideas on students at Duke Divinity School and will have an opportunity to speak to church communities along the way, for whom the consequences of the visual arts are far from theoretical. It'll be a good year and I have my reading cut out for me. One chapter of the dissertation has already been set apart to explore these topics. And my good wife is a wonderful visual artist, who will continue to teach me how to look and how to appreciate the visual arts.

All this to say: I better know more by the end of a year than I do now.


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